Sunday, 29 November 2020

How the Left Could Win Back Labour

Let's be honest, the Labour left has one hell of a battle on its hands...

Tony Blair built his fifth column so effectively that neoliberal MPs have almost full control over what is supposed to be a socialist party. And neoliberalism is so very far from socialism. The situation is just as absurd as a Tory Party flooded with socialists would be. The Labour Party has been stolen and I'd like to discuss whether it's possible to win it back.

I'm not here to pretend success would be likely, simply to outline the possible path the left could take. This will be a Herculean task and would require a huge show of unity, but what choice does the left have? Compromise with Starmerists is a non-starter because the feared purge is now in full swing, and the Socialist Campaign Group doesn't seem interested in forming a new party, no matter how much we ask. Certainly, I know Corbyn is not keen on the idea.

So here is what would need to happen to return the Labour Party to its socialist roots:

Step 1. Defy Starmer and his attempts at censorship

This will be a tough one because the people who make a stand could well face expulsion. But  ultimately members will have to make a stand for the greater good, otherwise they will get nowhere. 

Starmer is banning CLPs from showing solidarity with Corbyn and sending letters banning them from discussing issues which he disapproves of. His behaviour has been anti-democratic to say the least, but when have neoliberals ever been fans of democracy? Concerningly, they even no-platformed Canary Editor Kerry-Ann Mendoza, a black woman who was booked to discuss racism and human rights. I understand they threatened to expel anyone who attended an event hosted by Kensington CLP, if Mendoza were to be present. 

The Labour hard right seems to think it can simply identify people as non-persons and then expel anyone who is guilty of being in their presence. If everyone keeps speaking out against this McCarthyite madness, passing motions in support of Corbyn, and refusing to back down, it will at least force Starmer into a difficult position. The more members he expels, the more he will look like a Stalinist. Plus, he could leave himself open to court action if he acts unlawfully, which he is currently running the risk of doing. 

The recent EHRC report specifically states political interference in disciplinary matters is unlawful. If Starmer expels people, simply for disagreeing with him, that could cause huge problems, not least that the unions will likely turn against him.

Step 2. Lawyer up, Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn absolutely must not apologise and I'm told he is very unlikely to, for two key reasons: 1) he spoke the truth; and 2) he agreed the wording of his controversial statement with Starmer and his team. 

The fact is, if Jeremy Corbyn apologises now, it is well and truly over for the Labour left. It would be an admission of guilt and a nonsensical admission at that. Even if Starmer restored the whip, Corbyn's days would be numbered. His apology would fuel demands for him to go and the McCarthyism would be ratcheted up to the extreme. My guess is he would be gone within a year and the rest of the SCG would be sitting ducks at that point. The only ones who would survive, would be the ones who fall silent and get in line.

So legal action is certainly necessary, but there is no guarantee the courts would force Starmer to restore the whip. I'm hearing Corbyn's team certainly aren't confident on that front. It could go one of two ways: 1) the judge decides Starmer has the ultimate power to withdraw the whip, whatever the circumstances; or 2) the judge decides Starmer is guilty of double jeopardy and in breach of anti-discrimination laws. It really could go either way, but... even if the judge does not order the whip to be restored, a court case could still be devastating for Starmer. This is because it would force the publication of internal communications which I'm told could prove Starmer's people ratified Corbyn's statement. Even if Starmer wins the court case on a technicality, it would make him look dishonest, if he really did suspend Corbyn for a statement which he, or his people, ratified. He would in effect be as responsible as Corbyn for those words. A person could then reasonably ask why he has not suspended himself or offered an apology. They could reasonably ask why he has not resigned.

On top of the above, Corbyn's lawyers could potentially discuss matters from the Labour leaks report, and that's a whole new can of worms. Basically, if Corbyn lawyers up, the truth will come out in court and will be there for all to see.

Step 3. Full solidarity from the unions

Unite recently cut its funding to Labour by 10% to express disapproval of the direction Sir Keir Starmer is taking the party and protest the huge payouts to the "Panorama whistleblowers". Unite leader Len McCluskey said: "I have no doubt if things start to move in different directions and ordinary working people start saying, 'Well, I'm not sure what Labour stand for,' then my activists will ask me, 'Why are we giving so much money'?"

If the left really are to have a meaningful say in the running of Labour or wrestle back control, all major unions must be prepared to play hard ball. If they demand an end to the purges and the watering down of policies, and threaten to cut funding or disaffiliate altogether, this will leave Starmer incredibly vulnerable. Labour was founded by unions and has been representing them ever since. Does Starmer really want to be known as the leader who destroyed that relationship?

Step 4. Make the truth about Labour leaks public

Starmer's people are said to be concerned that the ongoing investigation into the Labour leaks scandal will not be the whitewash some were likely hoping for. Martin Forde QC is reportedly digging into "everything" and most of the Labour left have read those leaked documents. We know how damning they appear to be and we know those who appear to be culpable are closely aligned with Starmer. If the Forde Inquiry truly is the independent investigation we were promised, this could spell big trouble. How could Starmer explain to members any links to guilty parties, if the Labour leaks concerns are proven to be genuine?

Step 5. Impact Labour's finances

Labour is facing financial trouble. It's lost around 60,000 members, with more leaving all the time and others simply withholding direct debit payments. If the unions cut funding and Labour faces multiple court cases in 2021, the party could be at genuine risk of bankruptcy. Given Starmer has already settled court cases Labour could have won (according to lawyers), the blame would fall squarely on his shoulders. Remember, the party's finances could quickly and easily be rebuilt if a strong socialist were to become leader and win back lost members. It would be short term pain for long term gain.

Step 6. Win back the NEC

The left slate had a strong showing at the recent NEC elections (with five of the Grassroots Six winning seats), despite concerns that rule changes strongly favoured the Labour hard right. But the hard right still have control over the NEC. When the next NEC elections come around, the left need another strong showing to edge towards a majority of the 38 seats. A socialist NEC can be a strong check on the power of the leader and general secretary and that is needed now more than ever.

Step 7. Stop the appointment of David Evans

David Evans is currently the acting General Secretary, but I understand his position will not be official until ratified at party conference. Given the number of no confidence votes he's faced from CLPs, there is every chance he will be formally rejected. We have to keep speaking out to ensure this happens.

Step 7. Full solidarity from the Socialist Campaign Group

So far the Socialist Campaign Group's show of solidarity with Corbyn has frankly been piss poor. Writing a strongly worded letter or asking people to sign a petition is simply not going to cut it. And John McDonnell's recent suggestion that Corbyn apologise is a complete and utter joke. 

The SCG considered a mass walkout when Corbyn was suspended, but the key reason was apparently concern they would be picked off, one by one. I get the impression many are careerists who don't want to fall off the Westminster gravy train. But they don't seem to grasp they will absolutely be picked off, unless they throw Corbyn under a bus and fall completely silent. At which point the Labour left is dead.

We need the SCG to find their backbones (tbf Diane Abbott is one of the few to still have hers). Labour's socialists must condemn Starmer's actions in the clearest possible terms and be prepared to risk expulsion, given that will be their fate regardless. They need to be prepared to resign en masse if need be and either stand as independents or preferably form a new party.

In short, they must play hard ball. This is about so much more than their careers, it's about the future of British socialism and the last chance to have a socialist government in their lifetimes. Any member of the SCG who thinks they can remain in Starmer's Labour and influence policy is frankly delusional.

Step 8. A leadership challenge

Be loud and clear about Sir Keir Starmer's awful leadership. Raise public awareness of all the above points and watch public trust in him fall. He's already polling terribly - way below the promised 20 point lead - against the worst government in memory. As Starmer continues to underperform, he will further lose the trust of the unions, membership, wider public, and even his own team. At this point, a leadership challenge would be ideal.

The Labour left need to quickly find their candidate and it needs to be someone who can put up a stronger fight than the disappointing Rebecca Long-Bailey. But I'm not even sure who that candidate could be. I can think of a few MPs I like, but all have their weaknesses and none would be guaranteed victory, even against a weakened Starmer.

We need someone we can start building up now. At the same time, we need to galvanise the Labour membership against Starmer. At the last leadership contest, 38% of members didn't bother to vote, especially those on the left, because the options available were terrible. 

What we need now is for Starmer to have a Trump-effect on the membership, i.e., make the members so determined to be rid of him, they will crawl over broken glass to vote for anyone else. 

If the SCG can then put forward a competent and credible candidate whose popularity we've built up over a period of say six months, we can overthrow Starmer. But first the SCG need to ensure they get the nominations to force a leadership challenge. 

The candidate would need nominations from 20% of Labour MPs/MEPs, which I believe works out at 44, if my maths is correct. The SCG currently has 34 members, meaning they would need 10 additional nominations from somewhere. There is a reasonable chance 10 other Labour MPs/MEPs are fed up with Starmer and will get behind a challenger, but we may have to consider a compromise candidate. Someone who is not every socialist's first choice, but still ten times better than what we currently have.

Step 9. Open Selection

All of the above will ultimately be pointless if the left don't force through open selection. They had the chance at last year's annual conference, but Corbyn went cold on the idea in favour of party unity. He also went cold on the idea of getting rid of Tom Watson as deputy leader and we saw how that turned out. The left need to get their act together and find the same ruthless streak the Starmerists are currently showing.

If Labour members get open selection, there is every chance most neoliberal fifth columnists will be gone by the 2024 general election. This will be hugely problematic in itself, leaving Labour without many MPs and leaving the party in disarray. But it's already in disarray. Open selection would offer a chance to rebuild and get Labour back to its socialist roots for good. 

If none of this can be achieved, Starmer will kill off the Labour left and British socialism will be dead until a credible new party emerges, because there will be no way back within Labour's neoliberal framework. They will make sure of that.

If you appreciate what we do at Council Estate Voices, even the most modest of donations can help us massively and enable us to continue our work. 

Please click the button to donate
Thank you for your support